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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - September 26, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Replacements for non-native purple fountain grass in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi-- Just found out that the purple fountain grass I bought (fortunately on sale) is a) not native and b)not perennial. Dang it! If I can find the pots I'm taking it back. I have a part-shade well-drained corner of a yard on the Williamson/Travis county line, in Wells Branch. There is a happy native Anacacho orchid tree there already, which I plan to keep. Can you make some suggestions for drought/shade tolerant natives that won't be too high? Also need to be kid-friendly (not too many thorns or particularly poisonous). Thanks so much!

ANSWER:

Sorry you got a non-native grass; unfortunately, most plant sales places are not familiar with the difference between native and non-native, and the plants are not marked that way. We're going to suggest some grasses native to Central Texas that do well in part shade, have no damaging or poisonous parts, and should be a good complement to your Bauhinia lunarioides (Texasplume), also known as Texas orchid tree. When you are shopping for native plants, go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, type your town and state in the"Enter Search Location" box, and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies and landscape consultants in your general area.

Our favorite grass for shade or part shade is Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats). It is perennial, growing to 2 to 4 ft tall. It has graceful, drooping foliage with the "oats" on the end, very decorative. Another grass that is graceful and attractive and grows well in shade is Nassella tenuissima (finestem needlegrass). The blades are not really needle-like, and we don't think they would hurt any curious children. Finally, a low shrub that does well in shade or part shade is Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry). It is deciduous, but has beautiful purple-pink berries which the wildlife love, but are not considered harmful if eaten. Follow each link to a page on that particular plant with information on ultimate size, culture and growing conditions.

Since you live in Austin, we hope you're planning to attend the Fall Plant Sale at the Wildflower Center. We just checked the projected plant list for this sale, and all four of the plants we have been discussing are on that list. This is not a guarantee that the plants will be available; the list has to be updated as information becomes available. It's a wonderful opportunity to catch up on plants native to Central Texas, talk to volunteers and staff people who love native plants, and visit tents from the Native Plant Society of Texas and Native American Seeds. The plant list has 323 plants on it, and there will be literally thousands of plants for sale in several container sizes. 

Pictures from our Native Plant Image Gallery


Bauhinia lunarioides

Chasmanthium latifolium

Nassella tenuissima

Callicarpa americana

 

 

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